‘Voices of Fire’ Examines Lessons Learned From Western Wildfires

On August 10, 2015, the Soda Fire started as a small wildfire in the remote Owyhee Mountains, southwest of Boise. High winds, soaring temperatures, and low humidity came together to create the perfect conditions for an explosive wildfire. Despite their best efforts, wildland firefighters from numerous government agencies and local municipalities could not control the fire.

Soda Fire Hugo Sindelar
The Soda Fire, 2015. Photo by Hugo Sindelar

An independent documentary from regional filmmaker Hugo Sindelar, Voices of Fire (airing Wednesday, August 30, at 9 PM on Idaho Public Television) may be the story of this one wildfire, but it is also a larger discussion about how we manage our Western landscapes moving forward to help prevent fires like this from happening again.

The film explores the uniqueness of the Soda Fire and its effect on the people of Idaho. Many ranchers lost over 90 percent of their grazeable land. Without food for their cattle, many may now be forced to sell all of them in an effort to survive. Numerous ranchers provide their unique stories on how the fire affected them, how they plan to cope with their losses, and their thoughts on what can be done to prevent another fire in the area.

The film also follows the extensive rehabilitation efforts undertaken by both the Bureau of Land Management and ranchers, who have quickly mobilized in an effort to reseed the landscape and prevent the spread of invasive cheatgrass, the encroachment of which has increased fire frequency and severity across the West.

While many questions about how to prevent another Soda Fire remain open for debate, the community response in Idaho has helped those affected heal and move on from the damage. Voices of Fire tells the story of these Idaho communities and helps facilitate a discussion about how to manage Western landscapes to prevent these catastrophic fires in the future.

Following the film, Outdoor Idaho encores Wild Fire (August 30 at 9:30 PM).

Outdoor Idaho Wild Fire
A firefighter near Yellow Pine, 2007. Photo by Jay Krajic

What happens when the extreme becomes the norm, when something you thought you understood is now literally off the charts? That’s the question fire officials were asking themselves on August 20, 2007, as all conditions pointed to another monstrous fire season, similar to that of 1910.

The fires of 2007 scorched almost two million acres in Idaho alone, continuing the trend of bigger, hotter wildfires in the West. Wild Fire follows the flames to Yellow Pine, Ketchum, and the Salmon River to capture the competition between fire and firefighter.

The Wild Fire website includes in-depth information on wildfire science and preparation, as well as extended interviews with fire experts.

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